On Friday, February 15th, surrounded by bright, colorful children’s posters and toddler-sized school chairs, a large crowd of residents and government officials gathered at Blandi's Child Learning Center to talk about the recent shooting at 5th and Kennedy Streets, along with other crime issues in the area.
The take-away? According to MPD Chief Peter Newsham, “the intersection of 5th and Kennedy is the most dangerous intersection in [MPD’s] Fourth District.” After an uproar by the crowd, he tried to offer reassurances, “It’s still relatively safe,” Newsham said. “But more can be done. We can do our part, and we will, but I need you to help.”
The main solution recommended to help resolve gang violence, public nuisance issues and the repeat shootings, among other issues, is implementation and expansion of wrap-around services like the kind provided by ONSE, the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement. For properties that promote, or through inaction, enable, local criminal activities, the suggestion by Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd was a more aggressive investigation of nuisance properties by ABRA, the Office of the Attorney General, and DCRA.
Newsham wants stronger guns laws and longer penalties for gun-related offenses. He discussed how the vast majority of shootings involved repeat violent offenders — people who have been arrested for violent crimes involving guns, who are released back into the community under short time frames.
Todd also spoke about bringing in “permanent violence interrupters” like the Collaborative Solutions for Communities, which is opening a location on Kennedy Street to work with the community, especially those most vulnerable to socio-economic hardship and trauma, to “figure out root causes and get government resources” to help.
Todd said they are in discussions to get multi-agency approval on how to deal with issues at the shopping center where the February 7th shooting occurred. Many residents, of all ages and races, discussed their discomfort with the public drinking and pot smoking outside at the shopping center. With six childcare facilities nearby, parents are concerned about exposing their children to the low-level crime, the pot smoke, and the potential for greater violence like that which occurred on the 7th.
“There are a lot of good business owners in the area who want to be a part of the community,” Todd said. “For the others, those who don’t, we can bring the right resources to bear to help make the area safer and identify the bad actors.”
According to MPD, the shopping center is private property, owned by the Kim family, and the police are very limited in how they can interact.
“The private property owners decide who can stay and who has to leave,” said Fourth District Commander Randy Griffin. “You have to talk to the business owners. We’ve had little-to-no cooperation from the family. That said, we will work closely with the agencies [Todd discussed], because we do know who the bad actors are,” Griffin said, referring to MPD’s awareness of repeat offenders who hang out at the shopping center.
MPD has committed to having patrol officers at 5th and Kennedy for the foreseeable future. Commander Griffin said there are an assortment officers in patrol cars, bikes and on foot assigned to and patrolling the “Kennedy corridor,” from Georgia Avenue to 5th Street along Kennedy, Jefferson and Longfellow.
At-Large Councilmember Robert White, who like Todd, lives nearby, spoke about his concerns about the increase in crime near the intersection, and his calls for an increased presence of MPD, as well as resources like ONSE. “I’m a parent and part of the local community, and just like you, I want to see a solution,” White said.
Regarding the February 7th shoot-out, Commander Griffin said that due to several cameras in the area (including two MPD cameras in the intersection), they identified the vehicles involved in the shooting, as well as the suspects. Griffin said that the two vehicles have been recovered (one was stolen), and two arrest warrants have been issued so far. He said he expects more to come.
Griffin said that he believes the shootout was the result of a personal beef between people, not necessarily drug-related.
Chief Newsham arrived to the meeting late, having been delayed by another shooting earlier in the day in Eckington in Northeast DC, where a 12-year old was shot. Both Chief Newsham and Commander Griffin expressed frustration with the crime in the area, and with the repeat offenders MPD keeps arresting, only to see the offenders back on the street a short time later.
Newsham reviewed a slidedeck on the recent shooting, and on crime statistics citywide. According to the numbers he presented, almost 80% of all homicides in DC in 2018 were gun-related. He said that of that number, 93% were perpetrated by known offenders who already have an arrest record, with the average being 10 arrests. 49% of those had a gun-related arrest, with 43% under some type of “supervision” at the time of the homicide. Similarly, 82% of gunshot homicide victims had an arrest record, with an average of 10 arrests each. 45% had prior gun arrests, and 36% were under supervision.
“We are not taking gun crimes seriously in DC,” Newsham said. “We need to appropriately deal with violent reoffenders, and we’re not doing it,” referring to DC laws and supervisory agencies. “Supervision agencies have the responsibility to know where their supervised people are and what they are doing — and they are not doing it,” he said.
He told the story of a recent homicide, where the shooter had been convicted of shooting someone 19 times, and three years later was out on the street, involved in another shooting leaving one person dead.
“Violent offenders convicted of violent offenses are being released back into the community,” Newsham said. “For me, personally, I am not comfortable with how DC Superior Court is doing its job.”
He went on to say that there are no real consequences for carrying an illegal gun in DC. “The behavior is not changing,” he said. “These people don’t care about the community, about shooting in the middle of the day.” He went on to say that many of the shootings revolved around petty disputes between people who know each other.
He gave a recent example of the shooting at 1st and Kennedy in front of Jackie Lee’s, where an innocent man was shot in the head as he was leaving the bar around noon. “The people involved in the shooting knew each other and had a personal beef. The man who was shot, still in the hospital in rehabilitation, now has to deal with the results of their recklessness.”
Residents spoke of wanting more police in the area, and Newsham reaffirmed his commitment to a “precision deployment to reduce gun violence in this area.”
Todd wrapped up the meeting saying that the Office of Neighborhood Safety Engagement has a location on Kennedy Street as of this year, and he would see it budgeted to remain again through the next year.
“I am committed to Kennedy Street, and keeping it from backsliding,” Todd said.